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Hopes fade for US miners as explosion toll climbs to 25

The death toll in a coal mining explosion in West Virginia stood at 25 last night and could rise further. Officials warned that hopes of finding four more missing men alive were rapidly fading.

President Barack Obama opened a previously scheduled White House prayer breakfast by sending condolences to the families of the victims of the accident, which happened on Monday afternoon at the Upper Big Branch mine, about 30 miles south of the city of Charleston.

The blast, possibly caused by the ignition of methane, which is highly combustible, occurred 330m (1,000ft) underground during a shift change, officials said. It has been recorded as the deadliest mining mishap in the US since a Utah shaft explosion in 1987 killed 27 men.

Even as rescue efforts for the missing men were under way, questions about the safety record at the mine, owned by Massey Energy Co, were starting to multiply. In the past year, the company has been charged with 10 violations of mining regulations.

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